Since I arrived at the Djerassi residency I have been particularly fascinated by the fog that rolls up the mountains at night (I guess you can tell it’s my first time on the West coast) so I have been drawing and thinking a lot about fog lately.
In our language ‘fog’ has mostly a negative connotation: a fog is “something that obscures and confuses a situation or someone’s thought processes”, to fog is to “bewilder, puzzle, muddle, daze or stupefy”. This is probably not surprising since our culture loves to reduce the world in false dichotomies: good/evil, us/them, art/science. Of course we don’t have much patience for something that blurs the contours and forces us to slow down and reassess our direction. But apparently this beautiful fog is one of the secret ingredients that allows the redwood forests (Sequoia sempervirens) to grow to their incredible heights (even beyond the limits normally imposed by the water potential coming from the roots).
This fertile Djerassi fog made me think of Stuart Firestein definition of ‘ignorance’. In his book Ignorance: How It Drives Science (2012) Firestein argues that the real goal of science is not a slow accumulation of knowledge – as it is often depicted – but rather to achieve a ‘high-quality ignorance’. In other words, the best ideas don’t usually come from a state of certainty but when existing theories and beliefs are being challenged. This is why Firestein advises young scientists to learn how to be comfortable with the feeling of ‘not knowing’. Maybe we should start thinking more highly of the fog then.